Resolved

If anyone would be able to peruse my Facebook account for a day, they would find (and should not be overly surprised) that I like to debate. I confess, debating—particularly being right—as of late has been a struggle for me (in that it falls dangerously close, and many times extends into, idolatry). However, I think debating is truly a lost art, and an important one. Truth matters. (That should not be a point of debate!) And, as long as it is done in a Christian manner, debating is very useful, for the debaters and especially for those watching/listening. Therefore, my main goals in debating are honesty, charity, and transparency. I say this because nothing aggravates me more than a debater—even if he or she is on my side (and right in their conclusions!)—who debates dishonestly. Therefore, I want to make these resolutions (a la Jonathan Edwards) for myself in my debating endeavors. Some of these I have broken; others I have sought to maintain faithfully.

  1. I resolve to never use straw man arguments. This is where, when a person disagrees with something, they put forth a false understanding of the view which they are opposing, which is subsequently easier to “beat down,” and then proceed to “beat it down,” making it look as if they have actually refuted the position which they are opposing. I know that sentence was very confusing, so let me give an example. A common theological straw man would be in regards to the Trinity. A Unitarian might respond to a Trinitarian by saying, “I can’t believe you believe in three gods!” That is a straw man, because it presented Trinitarian theology as tri-theistic, which it is not, therefore making it easier to refute. However, all the Unitarian has refuted is tri-theism, not Trinitarianism. This is something I have resolved, as long as it is within my power and knowledge, never to do.
  2. I resolve never to engage in appeal to emotion. This one is something every Calvinist has received at least 300 times in his or her life. Thus, I feel the effects of this on a regular basis, and it is very draining. This is one is particularly annoying because today we tend to think according to our emotions rather than according to our reason. It is easy to get anyone today to believe almost anything if you can get their emotions worked up about it. An example of this would be by responding to Calvinism by talking about babies burning in hell despite their wishes. This is an appeal to emotion and not an actual argument. This is something I have resolved, as long as it is within my power and knowledge, never to do.
  3. I resolve never to misrepresent the opposing position. This is directly related to the straw man, which comes from misrepresentation. However, not all misrepresentations are utilized for the purpose of raising straw men, I imagine. I just make this resolution to avoid misrepresentation altogether. Misrepresenting an opponent’s position—whether deliberate or accidental—does nothing but bring heat rather than light. This is something I have resolved, as long as it is within my power and knowledge, never to do.
  4. I resolve never to resort to calling names. This is something that has been common throughout all ages, as far as I can tell. It is closely related to the appeal to emotion above. The reason why I want to avoid this is twofold. First, the one who resorts to name-calling has resorted to waving a big, colorful flag which says, “I give up. I have no actual arguments to make, so I will just throw vulgarities at your name and/or character.” Nothing communicates defeat like name-calling. Secondly, it is against the call of a Christian in regards to his or her behavior. It is mean-spirited and childish. This is something I have resolved, as long as it is within my power and knowledge, never to do.
  5. I resolve never to get off topic. This one is probably the most frustrating one to encounter. It is virtually impossible with someone who 1) will not stay on the topic at hand or 2) throws so many different issues at his opponent that his opponent is overwhelmed. This is a clear tactic that is used by the weak to overtake their opponents. Throw so much at them—regardless of whether its valid, solidly argued, or a straw man—that your opponent will have no chance to actually engage in arguing the point. This is something I have resolved, as long as it is within my power and knowledge, never to do.
  6. I resolve never to use extreme adjectives or adverbs. This is one of which I am guilty often—far more than I care to admit publicly. Using words like “absolutely,” “utterly,” “irrefutably,” “uncontested,” etc., actually do not add to the argument at all. If something is irrefutable, let the argument itself show that and bring it to fruition. The reason this is to be avoided is, again, twofold. First, it is pointless. As I said, if the argument is irrefutable, let the opponent show that for you. Second, it is closely tied in with the appeal to emotion. Many people (myself especially) think that these words actually make their argument more sound or impressive, when in reality it just makes them sound pompous.  This is something I have resolved, as long as it is within my power and knowledge, never to do.
  7. I resolve to hold my opponent’s feet to the fire of Scripture. All of the things to be avoided listed above—name-calling, straw men, appeals to emotion, etc.—all do one thing: distract from Scripture, the only thing that really matters in theological discussions. The more I engage in these childish things, the less I am talking about Scripture. On the other hand, the more I push through and demand that my opponent answer to the authority of Scripture, all the while avoiding these things, the more his faulty argumentation and violation of these resolutions shines through for what they are—bologna. This is something I have resolved, as long as it is within my power and knowledge, always to do.
  8. I resolve to love my opponent. This is kind of like what Jesus said: “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:40).[1] If I try my hardest to do this, all the rest of these resolutions will fall in to place. Likewise, if I fail in even one of these resolutions, I show that I am failing in this one (cf. James 2:10). This resolutions should be about personal integrity and airtight arguments, but it should primarily be about loving my opponent and, through that, loving God. That should be the goal in all of our debate, whether we “win” or “lose.” This is something I have resolved, as long as it is within my power and knowledge, always to do.

I will likely return to this article every so often when a new resolution pops into my thought. This needs to stand as a measure of accountability for me from here on. I know I will always fall short in many ways (as a “good” sinner will). However, perhaps this will serve as a somewhat constant reminder for me to seek God’s glory in all things—especially in debates.


[1] Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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4 thoughts on “Resolved

  1. I too commend you on committing to integrity in debate. I was once like you and loved to debate but I finally figured out that debate for me was all about stroking my pride. Moreover I considered that if you can debate your views your views are debatable. I will, God giving me grace, take a stand on truth and the Gospel of the free and sovereign grace of God in Christ Jesus alone but I no longer seek to convert others to any kind of truth. If I can convert them with a logical argument then someone else can unconvert them with one. Paul in 1Cor. 2:1-5 said that we preach in the power of God not in the wisdom of men in order that their faith is in the power of God in truth and not in our wise and reasoned argument.

    (1Co 2:1) And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.

    (1Co 2:2) For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

    (1Co 2:3) And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.

    (1Co 2:4) And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:

    (1Co 2:5) That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

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    • Thanks, brother, for your commendation.

      I have often thought about this issue of debating. I will have to give it some more thought. In one sense, if I am to preach the gospel, it will have to involve arguing from Scripture the free grace of God. In another sense, I am in your boat. I am losing interest in trying to change rebellion in people’s hearts. I have enough of my own rebellion to deal with.

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